Partnerships to reduce young people’s exposure to UV radiation
Payal Pandit Talati, MPH
Reducing the incidence of melanoma through primary and secondary prevention is among one of the shared goals and key partnership strategies between the Melanoma Moon Shot™ and the cancer prevention and control platform. The moon shot and platform are part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients' lives.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and the number of new cases of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, has risen annually. Alarmingly, melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in adolescents and young adults.
The main preventable risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR). As a result, the moon shot and platform have collaboratively identified a multi-component prevention strategy in targeting children and youth through public policy and educational initiatives. Research shows that targeting children at a young age can lead to better engagement and practice of sun safety behaviors across the age continuum; ultimately reducing lifetime skin cancer risk.
Public policy successes, in which the moon shot served as a primary clinical and scientific resource, include the adoption of legislation restricting the use of tanning beds by minors less that 18 years of age and allowing students to bring sunscreen to school. These successes, coupled with sun safety education aspirations, have led to the development and deployment of Ray and the Sunbeatables®, an evidence-based sun safety curriculum created at MD Anderson.
The Sunbeatables® Program targets preschool through first-grade students and has been disseminated to school districts, community-based organizations and after-school settings through a partnership with the CATCH Global Foundation. To date, the Sunbeatables Program has been implemented in 43 states, the District of Columbia and four countries reaching over 200,000 children.
Prioritization and activation of investments in youth education strategies are novel for an academic medical and research institution. Recognizing the potential impact that early-childhood education could have as a component of a larger strategy, significant funding was invested in the research and validation of the Sunbeatables Program. This also led to digitization of the entire program being made available online and includes teacher training and resources, curriculum lessons and parent materials for ease of access and scalability of the program.
To extend the impact and return on program investment in Ray and the Sunbeatables, the platform recently embarked on a collaboration with Scholastic Inc. to develop Be Sunbeatable™, a sun safety program for third- to fifth-grade students. Scholastic is a nationally recognized name in the education arena with extensive years of expertise devoted to increasing knowledge for school children.
This collaboration has provided MD Anderson with the opportunity to extend evidence-based sun safety programming in a scalable model to schools around the country targeting students, educators, parents and school nurses. Over 50,000 classrooms have received hard copies of Be Sunbeatable and 400,000 teachers and 25,000 school nurses received electronic access to the materials. Program outreach efforts included identification of key priority states through assessment of high melanoma incidence count.
Be Sunbeatable is based upon established research from MD Anderson, utilizes key messaging from Ray and the Sunbeatables, and includes evidence-based strategies to reduce lifetime skin cancer risk. The new curriculum includes student lessons, parent engagement materials, a classroom poster, school nurse outreach and a digital site for accessibility of additional online lessons. To further enhance this collaboration, the co-developed materials link directly to MD Anderson resources and promote Ray and the Sunbeatables to early childhood educators.
Through the power of partnership, the moon shot and platform have successfully developed and disseminated a suite of sun safety education materials for children preschool age through fifth grade. Ongoing UVR primary prevention and secondary strategies are currently underway, including the coordination of community-wide sun safety programming uniting cross-sector stakeholders and engagement and training of providers through a tele-mentoring model to recognize the early onset of melanoma lesions and improve diagnostic accuracy. Collaborative efforts in these novel investments through schools, policy and primary care providers are key components of the long-standing goal to reduce the incidence and untimely deaths from melanoma.
Payal Pandit Talati is a program director for the cancer prevention and control platform.